Make a day of it with your dog
Traditionally, gardeners have a suspicious attitude towards dogs (don’t even mention cats) but is the tide turning in favour of horti-minded hounds? Welsh terrier Lil and Tim Richardson sniff out the best gardens to visit
For many of us in Britain – a quarter of households, according to The Kennel Club – a dog is part of life and a part of the family, so taking it with us to visit gardens seems a natural enough decision. But stop right there. A great many notable and historic gardens in Britain, including nearly all National Trust properties, refuse to let dogs in to “ornamental” areas, though they will usually allow them on leads in woodlands, parkland and other parts of the wider estate. Is this justifiable? And what do dogs get out of a visit to a garden, anyway?
I decided to put this to the test by taking my own dog, two-year-old Welsh terrier Lil, to a couple of gardens that do accept dogs, and by canvassing views for and against the mixing of curious canines and fine horticulture.
First stop was Herstmonceux Castle, in Sussex, which has a notably dogfriendly policy, making it clear on its website (as few properties do) that dogs are not barred from any part of the estate. On arrival Lil made friends with Bailey, a German short-haired pointer belonging to estate manager Tim Lower. “I would say that at least half of the visitors to the property arrive with a dog in the car,” Tim says, adding that a dog-friendly policy has increased visitor numbers. He reports very few problems with dog mess, and in fact struggles to recall when he last had to “clean up”.
In Tim’s view, a visit to a place like Herstmonceux is often the happiest time for both dog and owner. Of his own dog, he says, “He knows if I’m ill, and equally he knows if I’m happy. I think dogs do respond when they know that the owner is relaxed and happy – it means they are, too.”
This theory will ring true to any dog owner. A garden-writer colleague recently took her dog to an animal psychologist because he seemed to be stressed; the psychologist’s response was to ask whether she was stressed in her own life. When my friend confirmed that this was the case, the
advice was: “Calm down, and the dog will calm down.” It worked.
In the garden at Herstmonceaux, the two gardeners I encounter have no problem with Lil nosing about in the herbaceous borders. One even takes time out to stroke her (without knowing I am a journalist). For the dog, the main attraction is the panoply of smells a garden has to offer, as well as a certain pleasure in exploring the box hedges. But the most exciting moment is an encounter with a pair of working cocker spaniels who are visiting with their owners. Refreshment (for the dogs) is provided at the café in the form of two freshly topped water bowls.
By way of contrast, we go on to a small private garden at 96 Ashford Road, in Hastings, one of an impressive 1,584 NGS gardens opening for the National Gardens Scheme this year that welcome dogs. Owners Andrew and Lynda Hayler seem particularly generous in this regard, because they have created a refined Japanese-style garden and do not even own a dog themselves. Aren’t they worried that a hound will mess it up in some way?
But Andrew explains: “We want to get a mini schnauzer when I retire in three years’ time. We’ve put a lot of research into the best breed for us.”
Immediately on entering this garden, Lil gets extremely excited, straining at the lead – but any notion that this is because of the perfect hostas, beautiful cut-leaf maples or effigies of the Buddha is dispelled by the revelation that foxes are regular visitors here. Town-based terriers are all too familiar with the antics of Reynard, who cannot be tolerated. After a few minutes, Lil has patrolled the perimeter and calmed down somewhat, sniffing the pink cherry- blossom petals on the ground which stick to her nose as she investigates the bamboo tea house and drinks from a puddle in a decorative stone basin.
So what is the problem with dogs in gardens? According to Mike Calnan, head of gardens at the National Trust, there are many potential issues. “We leave it up to individual properties to decide whether to allow dogs into gardens or not,” he says. “Some do, some don’t. It all depends on the place.
“Small gardens sometimes don’t allow them in, or provide alternative areas to exercise dogs. We know that some visitors don’t like dogs, or are
One man: Lil the Welsh terrier and Tim take a break, top; Geoffrey the dachshund, above, on NGS duty